Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the coronavirus rules in England will change, enacting the government’s previously announced ‘Plan B’ in the face of the new Omicron variant’s rise.
This means that the government is reintroducing the guidance to work from home if you can, from this Monday (13 December). Johnson said in a press conference last night: “By reducing your contacts in the workplace you will help slow transmission.”
From this Friday (10 December), the government is also extending the legal requirement to wear a facemask to most public indoor venues, including theatres and cinemas. However, Johnson seemed to exclude hospitality venues from this requirement, citing exemptions “where it’s not practical” such as eating, drinking, exercising or singing.
He also announced that the NHS Covid pass will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
Johnson added: “The NHS Covid pass can still be obtained with two vaccine doses but we will keep this under review as the boosters roll out. And having taken clinical advice since the emergence of Omicron, a negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient.”
These measures will come into force in a week’s time, which Johnson believes will allow these venues to stay open at full capacity, while minimising risk.
In explaining why he and his government feel these measures are now necessary, he said: “It’s become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant and it’s spreading rapidly all around the world.
“Most worryingly there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron in the UK could currently be between 2 and 3 days.”
He added that cases in the UK are mirroring the pattern of those in South Africa, where hospitalisations doubled in a week.
Johnson commented: “So while the picture may get better, and I sincerely hope that it will, we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and therefore sadly deaths.
“And that’s why it’s now the proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B in England, so we slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves some time to get yet more boosters into arms and especially in older and more vulnerable people.”
He further revealed that as Omicron spreads in the community, the government will also introduce daily tests for contacts instead of isolation to balance safety and disruption to daily life.
The prime minister finished his initial address by setting out that the government’s continued Covid response will be guided by medical data around four key criteria: the efficacy of vaccines, the severity of Omicron, the speed of its spread and the rate of hospitalisations.
He concluded: “We will constantly monitor the data and keep it under review. As soon as it becomes clear that the boosters are capable of holding this Omicron variant, then we will be able to move on as before.”
The timing of these announcements has been viewed with some suspicion, as while many scientists have been calling for Plan B to be enacted weeks prior, the government has thus far denied there was a need to take that step. However, now that Downing Street is embroiled in a row over Christmas parties held on the premises last year when England was in lockdown, many have questioned whether these announcements are intended to distract the populace’s attention away from the controversy.